Refugees from America
by Robin Wyatt Dunn
I’ll come up over the horizon, in my name, and in the spitting of the holy from your lips, from your crown, the being who is you—who was me—dined and wintered in Los Angeles, made ordinary, cruel, wishy-washy and uncurled, fluorescing in the midnight sun, summoning hungry women, luminous with their blood—it is a new year, come into the circle, and be healed, and wrench out from your brain the password, the ancestral names, reasons, children and guardians in all forms—take it into your heart, what was, and could have been—could still be, however unlikely, under the bright and dead ritual space of the Doctor signed over to your case:
They tell me in the graduate student pub in Canada: “Soon, I’ll be a doctor.”
And I say: you know, Doctor is a very dangerous word. What it means is “to make appear right.”
Ah, Good for you, the senior man says to her, while she sips her white wine, and I say:
Shameless is right; there is no shame, nor any reason for it, in the fall from not only grace but life as you had known in—come in, it’s going to be all right, I promise, I have my finger on the trigger, somewhere near to your gut, made from the finest Youngstown steel, I promise you, I will not fire until you say:
Doctor, Doctor, midnight mine, tell me: is it winter where you are? How many times have I written of it? How many times will I be given the meaning of your terrible bright ornery knife?
“What is it that brings you in, Robin?”
“It could be anything, Doc. I mean, when are we talking about?”
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?”
“There is no proper beginning. I think we understand one another that we’re going to have to lie, and we might as well agree what kind it’s going to be, don’t you think? Don’t I need to be socially capable, industrious, well-laminated, and cheerful in disposition, cleaned, laundered and not too wealthy, cut into the shape for your performance, my love, tell me: is it true shrinks are the craziest people on this earth?”
“We can take as long as you like, Robin. It’s your money.”
“Not really. It was my money and now it’s your money. Money is money. You wanted the story. Which version?”
“The simplest version?”
“Right. That isn’t as simple as it sounds. Where I’ve been and where I want to go are all mixed up together. But let’s say I know the simplest version. They gave me a new life, Doc, you see. They gave me a new piece of plastic, and then two other ones, and I’ve put them in my wallet, I’ve had my photograph taken, and I’ve paid the fees, bills, deposits, costs, bribes, installments and remittances, all for the sake of this story, you see doc, your hourly rate is inconsequential in comparison—it could be zero, or infinite, it wouldn’t matter, because you don’t have the ability to tell me what this is going to mean.”
Not that doctors are so bad. We all have to make things appear right some time. So do I.
It’s about going mad. It’s about Los Angeles. It’s about America. The future. The ancient past. My heartache—
Hospitalization—that special word, inclusive within it the other –izations: institutionalization, organization, compartmentalization, and though it has no z, repudiation, of the past, present, and most of the future: they make you sign a lot of forms.
It’s like coming to Canada, you see.
Come into the hospital.
Sign here, and here, and here. Here, sign away your rights. Here, sign freely away your rights. Here, sign freely away your rights, and be healed.
There was a young woman—I’ve written about her before, but not well enough. Her name was Lucille (not her real name), a pretty blonde from Pacific Beach, California (not her real town), who with me was a prisoner at Hanbleceya Treatment Center (its actual, bullshitty name), where the bright colors of madness recede behind a careful drug-filled haze, and the most powerful drug is a special series of words . . .
the magic phrase . . .
the primium ordum . . .
the 33rd Degree . . .
Hahahaah—well. She was a sweet young woman. She liked making false rape accusations, but we forgave her for that. She had her problems. She had her carriage—as a mile, inside a French novel, not too far, but far enough, over a plain without any plainly determined kind of weather, in a void, in other words, a terrible void that they nurture, you see, that’s what doctors do, while they’re making things appear right, they nurture the void within you, hoping that it’ll eat you alive . . .
Where was I. If it’s of interest, here is the proto indo european etymology of “doctor”:
c. 1300, "Church father," from Old French doctour, from Medieval Latin doctor "religious teacher, adviser, scholar," in classical Latin "teacher," agent noun from docere "to show, teach, cause to know," originally "make to appear right," causative of decere "be seemly, fitting," from PIE root *dek- "to take, accept."
Do you take and accept this woman, not as your own, and not as ours, but as a holy vessel for your holy work? Do you take her now, furious words over her lips, blunted industrial suburb repainted in charmless colors behind us, the croquet game unfinished, and the counselors frowning vaguely like evil characters from the pages of
nerveless peons filled with the unholy and self-righteous spiritual energy of the Southern California elite (or rather, those aspiring to it), with no pretensions to grace, or thought, or mode of operation, but just the same old slavish obedience, to the leeches and their mantric rites, straight from out of the depths of the mysterious and poisonous earth . . .
Like so many things, you’d have to see it to believe it. Except that’s a cop out, isn’t it. I have to make you see it:
She has a pair of crutches. Her family has money but it’s not hers. Drugs, alcohol, depression—these are all the reasons on paper for all of us, rearrange them like Vanna White, but it doesn’t really cover the story, because we’re here for political reasons. We’re refugees from America, and my name is holy, unwritten, and so is Lucille, holy woman, striving to be, not dependent, or independent, but interdependent, and why not good looking while we’re at it, trying to understand what has happened to us, and what the money has done . . .
The money can do so many things. Like god, it has no ultimate reasons. Like god, it comes in infinite disguises. Like his high priests, money rapes you in secret, and tells you horrible things in your ear that are not so easy to forget:
We need you to PAY ATTENTION Robin because your own self-improvement is implicated in EVERYONE’S self-improvement and you don’t want to LET DowN YOUR FAMILY do you? DON’T Want to LET DowN JEEBUS CHRIST himself, now do you? Now do you?
Lucille has the energy of a wild boar, and a voice like one too, it cuts through the room:
“HE FUCKED ME!”
They take her away.
Refugees from America are a peculiar breed. They don’t go on lifeboats. Don’t carry wire cutters to get through the Macedonian farmland. Don’t drown off the coast of Africa. And, to be fair, being a prisoner of my class, this old and thankless middle class, I can’t fairly say I know the experience of the much larger number of poor American refugees, cast out from our dead cities, onto the dead sidewalks, with no name, voice or future . . .
Still it’s more similar than you might think, to be dispossessed of whatever modest resources you might have had. Your debit card is taken away. It’s your money, but not anymore. They give you six bucks a day in cash. And if you smoke, four of them are gone.
Everyone smokes at Hanbleceya. There’s nothing else to do, except what they tell you. Except listen to the voice of God inside:
I’ll come up over the horizon, in my vengeance. We buy by the barrel. The barrel of the sixgun, Samuel Clemens, ink and lead, and the long arc of the future, signed away on the Mayflower, and then again in La Mesa, California,
all to the glory of the ruling class
all to the glory of the blood drinking scions beneath City Hall . . .
give me the knife, doctor, and I’ll make the incision
where are you going to cut, Robin
right across the throat
I’ll come up over the horizon, into Los Angeles, I promise. I’ll come again, into the theater, Mrs. Rosenberg,
I will rise and recite my lines and pirouette under the gymnasium fluorescents, and cry, as you teach us, Sorgay of Everest!
(we call up to him, to practice our voices, in acting class)
Later I tell all my students they must take acting, because it’s all an act.
It’s all an act, motherfucker. So let me take out my cock and you can pretend you care about it.
In which the protagonist realizes the city is already burning
In which the protagonist sues a famous Hollywood actress for stealing his work, and learns how the US federal courts, ever since 1985, are no longer open to
pro se pauperis
cases, in the interests of the rich—
In which we surmise the element of surprise may still lead to our victory, from out of the camps, from out of the institutions, and into the light, but not yet—
Up over the horizon, from where I fled the prison of America, after Kerouac’s many promises were dead, and the continent raped so thoroughly it can no longer properly form speech, and I determined it was near time—
There’s so much to say about Los Angeles.
But we have to get moving—
Mrs. Rosenberg taught acting at LA Acting Academy (not their real names).
Lucille made it out of Hanbleceya, and returned to her nice little beach community, like Lebowski’s, where the fires burn every night, over the white beaches, and the limpid eyes of all the freaks are filled with a slow, sly delight . . .
The refugees from Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya suffer rape, murder and slavery, imprisonment, drowning, capture, and then back to the top of the list, again, but the one thing I share with them is that the story doesn’t make sense after the fact—
What do you think history is? Is it written by historians?
Refugees from America cannot leave. America follows us everywhere. Even into our dreams.
Uncle Sam rattles his cup under the chassis of our Toyotas, and the television channels follow us across the World Wide Web, as we try to forget, what has happened to us, and what we’ve done to others.
My time’s almost up, isn’t it doc?
“Actually, you can take as much time as you want. I don’t have any other appointments today.”
“It’s like the problem,” I say, “of trying to determine how deep of a lie you need to tell your parents to get them out of the house long enough to penetrate the liquor cabinet and enjoy some of its contents before covering your tracks . . . too deep, and they’ll grow suspicious, not deep enough, and they won’t leave the house. The problem is that if you really want people to understand what’s happened, you really have to fuck them up. Then they can understand your state of mind. But you still have to leave some thought behind, so that the events can be pieced together, which, even if they don’t make sense, can still be remembered. I want you to remember, you see. Because you’re going to go there too. Soon enough. I’ve scouted ahead, and it’s a beautiful and glorious hill we’ve been dying on, and I want you to see it.”
“I like that idea, Robin. That you’re a scout. In fact I agree with it. Artists are often the canaries in the coal mine.”
“Yeah. But I don’t want to die, you see. I can’t be the canary. I have to be something else. I don’t know what.”
“The scout, like you said.”
“Yeah, the scout. I have to report back, captain. Report on the enemy movements. Even though the enemy is us.”
Doctors aren’t about healing, you see. You go to a healer for healing. To your mother, or your lover. Doctors are for making things appear right. And that’s so important, that appearance, and occasionally it does coincide with things actually being right, but not very damned often. Usually right is a long way away, and you have to make it over and across ten thousand miles of enemy territory with no weapon, unable to speak the language . . .
Maybe you know all this already. Maybe I misunderstood and you’ve been over this territory before. Maybe my report is already outdated.
Well, here it is anyway:
O captain My captain
Our fearful trip is done
Our fearful flight is flown
it’s all gone.
O captain, my captain, rise up
the bugle, she trills
and for you the masses howl, lost in regret, tearing out their eyes in the dark:
Captain, though I have foresworn my pledge and burned my uniform, I must give you my final report.
Years lost: let’s just say ten. Give or take.
Nations visited: three. Three relevant nations.
Works of art generated: one film, twenty books. A bunch of stories.
Observed and incidental details:
1) some of our politicians like eating kids in basements
2) so many writers go through the same thing. It’s like madness is a recruitment tool to this fucking organization
3) the working method, overall, is insurrection
O captain my captain
for you the bugle trills
for you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning to you on the scaffold:
Stories are supposed to have a beginning, middle and end.
Let’s say I understand which is which. Let’s say I remember what which part looks like.
The beginning might have been in La Mesa, California. Walking over yet another freeway bridge, and seeing America for the first time. All that concrete. All that emptiness. All these years, and years, and things hinting and hunting against your brain.
The middle is probably Canada, where I am now.
But the end is in the past, before it all started. When I still had no criminal record, and no list of angry readers with their insults in the bottom of the comments section, and no idea whatsoever what I was supposed to do with my life.
American refugees are moving slowly into the past, like Doctor Who, navigating the dimensional boundary so as to determine, like good scientists, what fatal flaw dislodged the ship of state from its dilithium crystal wake, and to determine too what it is we lost before it all happened.
Like victims who forgot that they were raped as children, only to recall it in dreams twenty years later, the refugees from America are skin diving, under the Jungian waters, twenty feet, thirty feet, thirty five feet, forty:
Looking for a watch. Or a wallet. Or a small box, with a list of names and addresses.
O captain, my captain, I bring you a little black book.
Let us rise, o captain my captain, over the five hills of Rome, and over the Masonic Stars of Washington DC, to track the arc-second inclination of the Master Plan . . .
You see, it doesn’t matter if there was no Master Plan.
Because if you look for one, you’ll find it.
And if you find it, you can make it to the end, which is in the past, before the Daleks ever learned to go up the stairs, and before Americans ever bought their first radio or television, and before I moved south into the City of Angels, where the Crazy Ray finds every unprepared little Film Director and Aspiring Actor like a hapless ant under the magnifying class of a psychopathic child . . .
Americans are not allowed to apply for political asylum to any nation in the world. The closest we can come is to live illegally in Mexico. Even Canada is closed to us now, as Stephen Harper’s government put an end to the unofficial refuge Americans had taken from the Vietnam war and other atrocities . . .
Uncle Sam’s hand grows longer and longer, but more and more frail.
The problem with this story isn’t that it doesn’t make sense. Lots of stories don’t really make sense when you get down to it. The problem with this story is I’m not telling it an American idiom, which is the idiom where
some salvation is possible.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this story is as American as apple pie, but I’ve failed anyway, because I couldn’t take you far enough over the edge to make you see the beast that lies below, underneath the magazines and taxicabs and job application forms, into Los Angeles intersections that seem to move like the Labyrnth’s under Jennifer Connelly’s blue slippers, into the infinite midnight of a recurring nightmare that occurs only while you’re awake . . . see the beast who is America, with his glowing eyes.
If I really want you to understand the story I’m going to have to drug you. And I’m not ready for that yet. Not quite yet.
But I’ll tell you what the drug is: the drug is storytelling.